Hidden Collections - Maps

Recently cataloged maps from Special Collections are explored.

Posted on February 1, 2016

A satirical map of Europe, "As seen through French Eyes," in which each country is personified.

By Kara Flynn

This month, I’ve begun working on the second collection I’m cataloging for the CLIR Hidden Collections grant. This collection is slightly different from the previous collection I cataloged, and contains a number of loose materials, as opposed to the bound items in the earlier collections. Working with slightly different materials over the last month, I’ve discovered a number of maps that I’ve enjoyed exploring.

In the past, maps have never really caught my attention. For the most part, I figured maps were pretty straightforward--while some might be more aesthetically pleasing than others, their basic purpose was to get someone from point A to point B. However, the more maps I’ve come across this month, the more I’ve begun to realize that maps have a variety of purposes, and are created with a variety of motives.

For example, the map above is a satirical map of Europe, “As seen through French Eyes,” in which each country is personified. It includes a caption beneath, which reads:

“Britannia, isolated, full of Rage almost forgets Ireland. Spain, Smoking, leans on poor portugal. France fighting the Invader, Prussia, which stretches one hand towards Holland the other towards Austria. Italy says to Bismark, “Take off your foot.” Corsica and Sardinia, a little Joker, laughs over everything. Denmark lost his legs in Holstein, hoping to retake them again. European Turkey yawns and awakens. Asiatic Turkey sucks her Hookah. Sweden bounds a la Panther; and Russia resembles a rag-picker, waiting his chance to fill his basket.”

In general, I think most people tend to think of maps as factual and unbiased, and this map is a great example of the ways in which the intention of a map-maker influences the way in which places on a map are portrayed. None of the European countries portrayed here are presented in a very positive light, and it is clear that this map-maker wasn’t aiming to depict spatial relationships, but rather, to put forth a political argument. After all, most maps don’t come with a written explanation, and the caption that accompanies this map does a lot of work to frame the reading of the map.

This map can also tell us things about the intended audience of a map, and how that changes the way in which maps are interpreted. As a modern reader of this map, I understood that it was meant to be satirical, but I knew so little about what was happening in the world in 1870, when the map was published, that I cannot read the map with the same context that a contemporary audience would have. In order to better place the map in its historical context, I had to do a bit of research. As the caption points out, France is fighting “the Invader, Prussia.” This was a reference to the Franco-German, or Franco-Prussian war, which began in July of 1870. As with any war, there were many factors at play, and since I’m no expert, I won’t try to go into too much detail. Basically, the conflict was sparked when the Prussian Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen accepted the Spanish throne in June of 1870, after Queen Isabella II was deposed in 1868. This made France very nervous, as it meant that Prussia was essentially closing in on them from all sides. As a result, the French emperor Napoleon III declared war on Prussia on July 19, 1870. Ultimately, a group of German states, lead by Prussia, defeated France. While the conflict lasted only a year, Prussia’s victory over France was a big deal, because up to this point, France had been the dominant power in Europe. While not all the countries depicted in the map were directly involved in the conflict, when the two dominant powers in Europe go head to head, it affects the region as a whole, which was presumably why the map’s creator chose to include so much of the region.

Another clue about the context of the map comes from the seal in the upper left hand corner, which notes that the map was “Prepared by Hadol in Paris.” Paul Hadol was a French Illustrator and caricaturist who often collaborated with newspapers and magazines, and focused on political satire. So, the somewhat harsh satirical nature of the map is in keeping with Hadol’s style. The seal also reveals that this particular copy of the map was published by Prang & Co, a Boston based publisher. As it happens, the printer, Louis Prang, was actually Prussian by birth-- the plot thickens! He became involved in revolutionary activities and fled Prussia in 1848, traveling to Switzerland before emigrating to the United States in 1850.

So, putting all the pieces together, France and Prussia are in a war to determine the dominant European power. A French political cartoonist creates a satirical map of Europe, as a way to express political commentary, and an ousted Prussian printer publishes the map in Boston, for an American audience. Turns out that the map I had initially just found to be funny and instagram-worthy, had many more layers of meaning than I realized. Since I was an English major in college, I am very familiar with the technique of close reading, but I hadn’t really thought to apply it to an object like a map. But, as I learned with this map, close reading can be revealing and informative with all kinds of “texts,” not just with the ones we might traditionally apply it to.